If you are the family member of a military personnel, please submit your questions to Dr. Sylvia:

Dr. Sylvia answers all questions submitted in the hope that other families may benefit from the questions and answers of other families in similar situations.


Dear Dr. Sylvia:

Q. I have been on your website and could not find anything on the topic of military deployments and children. I have been married to my husband for 18 years, and we have weathered three 1-year long deployments successfully. We have a 3-year-old little boy and this will be our first deployment with a child. A year without a daddy is far from ideal and I am worried. When I think about it, my heart breaks for him. I had to build a callus over my heart to live in these cycles of deployments. Yes, I know that “people do it all the time”, and that “children are resilient”, and most “turn out fine.” I am searching for advice on what to do before deployment, during deployment, and after deployment that will maximize my son’s mental health. I want this year to have the least damaging effect as possible. Do you have advice? 

A. Thanks for bringing this omission to my attention. I will not only answer your question, and place it on my website, but I'll invite other military families to write in their questions on my website and prioritize answering their questions. It is a small way in which I can express my appreciation to our troops and to their families for the sacrifices they're making for our country.

You are correct that "children are resilient" and most "turn out fine," but nevertheless this will be a difficult time for you, your husband, and your son. Your most important priority is to build a support system for yourself and your son. Finding close family members and friends with whom you can socialize and celebrate holidays and birthdays is crucial. If there are other military families with one parent away on deployment, that can help your little guy to not feel so alone without his daddy.

Before your husband leaves, help him put together a book of pictures and messages you'll be able to share with your son a page at a time while his dad isn't able to communicate with him. For example, there can be Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday, first day of spring pages, so that in case there are long periods of time that you can't actually communicate, there will be greetings and stories you can share with your son from his dad. While your husband is gone, cell phone calls, e-mails and pictures sent both ways can help your husband feel close to your son's growing up and can help your son understand what his daddy is doing and where he is. You can involve your little guy in sending caring packages to his dad as well. Talk to your son about his daddy for a little while each day. While you can express how much you miss his daddy and how much daddy misses you both, be reasonably matter-of-fact about it, although occasional tears are also good emotions to express.

Finally, about a month before your husband comes home, it can be time to start counting days off on a calendar to get ready for the hugs and kisses that you and your son yearn for. Blending dad back into the family can be somewhat difficult, but if you don't make significant changes in routine for the year that dad is gone, then you won't have to make huge changes when he returns. Also, if you've managed to keep your husband updated on your son's development, it will be somewhat smoother for him to adjust to coming home.

©2009 by Sylvia B. Rimm. All rights reserved. This publication, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author.